Mt Doubt are an Edinburgh-based quintet that have mushroomed from the original one-man line-up of Leo Bargery, who since launching under the Mt Doubt monicker in early 2015 has issued a brace of albums alongside a handful of singles and EPs.
Such industry would be merely laudable were it not for the quality of output, which on the bulk of this latest EP shows Mt Doubt are on a similar page to Sparklehorse. To the fore in the elegantly messy and layered soundscape – Caledonian pop with a good slug of guitar, in short – is Bargery’s muggy baritone, a chocolate mousse of a voice that sets his band apart from their peers.
On Teeming Mt Doubt take the bones of a standard King Creosote-style anthem into a side room inhabited by a glam rock outfit with synthpop sympathies and crown it with a mighty coda, exhibiting a knack for melody that also gilds the wide-eyed pop of Conduits. Mouthwash, meanwhile, brings power-pop into the 21st century before decelerating into a chorus Mark Linkous would have been proud of. After setting such a high bar Moon Landings loses its way but it’s forgivable in light of what’s come before.
Clad in an electric-blue jacket and brown trousers, a blindfolded man with flecks of grey invading his otherwise cocoa-coloured hair and generous beard cradles an acoustic guitar. The cover of Sam Beam’s sixth studio album under the moniker Iron & Wine is a fine piece of embroidery that chimes with the immaculately executed folk rock he has been purveying since the early 2000s.
Turn the album over, however, and an altogether more distressed image meets your eye – the mess that lies behind the needlework, all loose threads, disharmony and confusion.
Whether it is Beam’s intention or not, the aptness of the above as a possible metaphor for the human condition as the fortysomething songwriter perceives it is hard to resist. After all, Beam is on record as saying Beast Epic continues his fascination with time, and in contrast to the youthful inquiries of his early releases the new record – following an arc that began around 10 years ago with The Shepherd’s Dog – is a distinctly adult affair, both in theme and in execution. We are outwardly civilised, he might be saying, but remove the mask and we are frayed and fragile.
There’s every chance, though, that Beam simply likes to see himself represented in needlework, just as he acknowledges he chose the title of the album because it sounded good. The case for such a view is only strengthened by the absence of anything related to the beast epic narrative genre within Beam’s sparkling lyrics, which, as per each and every previous Iron & Wine release, seem to come to him as easily – almost too easily – as sleep does to a cat.
If the jury’s out on the depth of meaning behind the title and the artwork, what, then, of the 11 songs that make up Beast Epic?
The album is unlikely to win Beam new followers, a conclusion that has less to do with the standard of songwriting than the lack of creative development. If anything, Beast Epic represents the first retrogressive step in Beam’s 15-year career in music, the likes of Song In Stone and About A Bruise shying away from the vigorous soul and jazz flavours of Beast Epic’s immediate predecessors Ghost On Ghost and Kiss Each Other Clean. Instead they cleave to the more intimate, less embellished palette of Iron & Wine’s debut The Creek Drank The Cradle and its follow-up Our Endless Numbered Days, albeit with a settled line-up of additional musicians fleshing out Beam’s creations.
But despite seemingly reverting to the methods that first brought him attention and making no effort whatsoever to pretend it’s anything other than 1974, with Beast Epic Beam has delivered a suite of songs that is equal to anything he’s done before. There’s a consistency that won’t surprise long-term fans, though they might be disappointed by the lack of a standout song to rival Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me (from Kiss Each Other Clean), the Woman King EP’s Evening On The Ground (Lilith’s Song) or Burn That Broken Bed from In The Reins, Beam’s 2005 collaboration with Calexico.
This record is snug, unthreatening and comforting, which means anyone looking for rage and catharsis ought to give it a wide berth. But for many of those preoccupied by the kind of concerns that trouble Sam Beam – chiefly thoughts of mortality and fallibility – Beast Epic will be a long, warm, healing embrace.
Watch the video for Call It Dreaming from Beast Epic below:
Dear is not an album for the faint of heart. It is, however, a long-player for those with a thirst for everything from shoegazing to drone rock via pie-eyed experimentalism and uber-rock melodrama.
Running through a record released in the Tokyo-based trio’s 25th year of existence, as per the flood of previous Boris releases, is a discipline that favours analogue recording, minimal overdubbing and, most significantly, a fanatical worship of excess. Volume, fuzz (rivers of it), sustain, dynamics, emphasis (they tour with an orchestral gong), song length – you name it, Boris take it outside, anchor one end to a bollard and the other to a truck’s towbar and floor the accelerator.
Incredibly, there’s nothing po-faced about Dear, whether the feral title track, the blood-thickening fog of DOWN (Domination of Waiting Noise) or The Power, a song whose title succinctly nails the sonic code of Boris.
This a band equally in thrall to flesh-and-blood heroes – sludge metal legends Melvins and Black Sabbath, for example – and those powered by 240 volts (Orange, Matamp and Sunn amplifiers, mostly). It shows, with Dear ultimately hymning the possibilities of heavy music as much as the raw materials with which they are created.
Watch the video for Absolutego from Dear below:
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
Those familiar with Sir Richard Bishop’s 36-year career spanning Sun City Girls, solo excursions and Rangda (in cahoots with Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano) will welcome this gathering of seven extemporary compositions, recorded in a rooftop apartment while the American guitarist was visiting the Moroccan city to perform a concert.
Tangier Sessions is an extraordinarily intimate confection, a document of an improv virtuoso tracking each and every memory within the wood of a 19th-century guitar that called to him like a lorelei from a luthier’s shop while Bishop was living in Geneva.
Instinct, fluency, fearlessness: Tangier Sessions braises these elements to the point of unctuous, Middle Eastern-hued beauty, leaving room for contrasting flavours in the jittery, borderline math-rock of Safe House and the baroque romance of the closing Let It Come Down.
The album was recorded after sundown and the cool plaster and tiles of the recording location provide a silent but palpable accompanist to Bishop’s twangs, thrums and flourishes, which hark back to the late John Fahey as well as sideways to contemporaries such as RM Hubbert and James Blackshaw (albeit the latter on amphetamines).
All told, this is as enchanting a solo acoustic guitar record as you’re likely to hear this year, and proof that travel broadens the mind – in more ways than one.
Listen to Frontier from Tangier Sessions below.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
You have to hand it to Ben Chasny: he’s a grafter. Prolific barely begins to describe the American guitarist’s odysseys in psych rock with Comets on Fire, psych folk under the alias Six Organs of Admittance and myriad side projects. Then there’s his newly launched label, Hermit Hut.
Now he’s invented the Hexadic system, a methodology that purports to disconnect musical composition from the conscious mind to generate new means of expression. Gary Barlow this is not.
So, what of the results? First impressions are that Hexadic bears no resemblance to previous records by Six Organs – or anyone else, for that matter. Second impressions are that Chasny has wilfully chosen to deploy frequencies and volumes that would make any sane recording engineer reach for their ear defenders. Third impressions are that few musicians almost 20 years into their career possess a fraction of the cojones it takes to conjure the diabolic car crash of Maximum Hexadic or the post-Armageddon fracture of Future Verbs, never mind the fug of chaotic blackness that permeates everything here.
A more beguilingly heavy record is hard to imagine.
Listen to Wax Chance from Hexadic below.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
Shortly before the conclusion of Electric Eden, a 607-page study of British folk music through the ages, Rob Young pauses to contemplate the current torchbearers of the genre. Among those the author singles out is Alasdair Roberts, whose music, he writes, “hitches the solemnity and bleakness of tragic traditional songs to a visionary poetic diction that recalls Blake, Ted Hughes or David Jones, occasionally rising to bitter jeremiads worthy of a ranting Old Testament prophet”.
Roberts hasn’t read his copy of the book, he tells me over coffee and Ferrero Rocher (“a gift from a neighbour”, he is swift to clarify). But mention of the author’s name sparks the singer and songwriter into storytelling mode, providing a fable for aspiring avant-gardists along the way. “Rob Young was responsible for putting me on the cover of The Wire,” he says, a half-smile spreading across his whiskered face. “I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing on the cover of this experimental music magazine?’ And then it was almost like the work dried up for a few months.” A rueful laugh ensues.
“I remember writing to another musician, a friend of mine; I don’t know if I should mention his name.” Go on, I tell him. You can always ask me to omit it later. “Och I’ll say it – it was Will Oldham, and the theme of it was: the work has dried up since they put me on the cover of The Wire. And he wrote back: ‘It’s the kiss of death.'” Roberts laughs, something which, contrary to much of what you might have heard or read about him, he does frequently and enthusiastically.
Within his tale lies one of the difficulties facing such individualistic musicians as Roberts, who falls not between two stools but many. After seven solo records and a handful of earlier releases under the monicker Appendix Out, the 37-year-old could fill a swimming pool with the acclaim he’s drawn. Though steeped in traditional Scottish folk music, it’s unlikely you’ll see him headlining Celtic Connections any time soon, yet you sense he’d relish the opportunity.
We meet on a dark evening in early January. Outside Roberts’s tenement flat in Pollokshields the fires of new year have long been extinguished, replaced by an eldritch wind, nagging rain and the unflickering synthetic flames cast by rusted streetlamps. We’re sitting in his kitchen – spartan seems the most apposite adjective – talking about tradition, the “muckle sangs”, ritual and medieval lute music besides less earnest subjects. The guitarist from Wet Wet Wet, for example (Roberts and Graeme Duffin both studied under the late jazz guitarist Laurie Hamilton); the 1980s (“Some of my earliest pop music memories are Erasure, the Communards and Culture Club”); and being unable to sleep at a music festival due to the psychedelic exertions of the Flaming Lips (“I wish I’d seen them but I was ready for my bed”, he says gnomically). Roberts is a thoughtful subject, quietly spoken but readily focusing on the conversation despite having spent the day in a Glasgow recording studio producing a record for the American musician Matt Kivel.
Primarily, we are here to discuss Roberts’s eponymous new solo record, and whether the fact it eschews the full-on approach of its predecessor A Wonder Working Stone – officially credited to Alasdair Roberts and Friends, a loose alliance that includes Stevie Jones (Sound of Yell) and Ben Reynolds (Two Wings) – might bring him new followers. There’s precious little of the “dronal, rustic ‘dark Britannica'” Rob Young ascribes to Roberts’s music on show this time around. If anything, I tell him, this is a record the traditional folk crowd could easily embrace – lyrical, direct, accessible.
“I never liked the term ‘singer-songwriter’ but it is a kind of singer-songwriter record,” says Roberts. “In some ways the fact they’re self-written songs might put off the traditional folk community but if they engaged with it they’d realise I see those songs as a contribution to the trove of traditionally informed music. I have quite a complex relationship with the idea of traditional music.”
To learn why, we must look back. Roberts was born in 1977 in Germany to Alan Roberts, a Scottish folk musician and promoter who partnered Dougie MacLean for a spell, and his German wife Annegret (now a practising minister in Perthshire). “He was friends with guys like Alex Campbell so that was there when I was growing up, but it was the 1980s so I was listening to John Peel and pop music on Radio Clyde under the covers,” he recalls. Did he rebel against his father’s musical background? “For a while, until I was in my late teens and started digging around in his record collection and discovering guys like Nic Jones and Steeleye Span.”
The tension between his folk and noise impulses raged for a while. “When I started making music in my bedroom when I was 16 or 17 it was a lot more sonic experiments using anything that came to hand on a four-track [recorder], just making a racket,” he says. “As I’ve got older my focus has become more and more on guitar playing and singing, but that’s not to say there aren’t times when I like to make a racket.”
Is it an urge fuelled by testosterone a la the psych workouts of bands like Comets On Fire? “Not so much testosterone. For me an element of catharsis or ritual is often important.” He points to the wall, upon which hangs a modest hand drawing of an owl. “This is from my record No Earthly Man, which is all traditional songs, and the making of that record felt like a ritual. There’s a song, The Two Brothers, which to me feels like a piece of ritual magic, and the way we arranged it tried to convey that.”
Rewind a little, and the vinyl discoveries of his youth developed into a still-burning odyssey into the depths of traditional music from both south and north of the Border. Who does Roberts count as an influence on his singing voice – fragile yet bold – if not his guitar playing? “Dick Gaughan,” he says after a long pause, “and Martin Carthy is an important figure for me. Nic Jones. I could name a lot of older traditional singers to listen to and study – Jeannie Robertson, Lucy Stewart, Lizzie Higgins, Stanley Robertson, Duncan Williamson. A lot of traveller singers are my favourites – Sheila and Belle Stewart. There are so many great singers.”
Such interests have underpinned Roberts’s solo career since he jettisoned the Appendix Out name, resulting in parallel avenues comprising collections of Scots ballads and his own compositions. It’s a duality off which the Callander-raised singer continues to feed. “When it comes to traditional song my main area of interest is the narrative ballads, the muckle sangs,” he explains, “so I research those and sing them, then after a period of immersion I’ll do some writing and the influence of traditional songs is obviously felt in my own writing.
“I’ll adapt a tune or a turn of phrase or a conceit from a traditional source then take it from there. I’m interested in making new music but I’m also interested in the old music that informs it. I like the idea of the new work being located in this continuum of tradition but also being outside it. It’s almost like an alternative reality.”
Alasdair Roberts is out on Drag City.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group. A longer version of this interview was published on The Quietus and can be found here.
Although clad in the uniform of the modern alt-rocker – black skinny jeans, black Doc Martens, black hoodie – Sam McTrusty is not long back from competing in the Dunhill Links, the pro-am golf tournament played every year on the Old Course in St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie.
Compared to his day job, it felt like a trial. “I was shaking,” he says of partnering English pro Simon Khan over three rounds. “I’m standing next to Rory McIlroy on the range and we’re both hitting shots. Then there are 400 people watching me hit from the fairway. I was more nervous than I’ve been playing any gig – and I get really nervous before gigs. I can’t eat. I can’t stand still.”
Such are the opportunities that come your way if you’re prepared to graft. And graft, as we will discover, is a key ingredient in the inexorable rise of the group McTrusty pilots, Twin Atlantic. Likewise the game of birdies and bogeys, which is why we’re in The Golf Lounge in Glasgow, as low-risk an environment in which to swing a club as any at this time of year.
The singer and guitarist, mildly hungover after a late night at a casino, sits alongside his fellow 26-year-old Ross McNae, with whom he grew up on Glasgow’s south side. Twin Atlantic recently released their second full-length album, Great Divide, the follow-up to 2011’s Free, which went silver with more than 60,000 UK sales. The new record might surprise some followers, evoking as it does such rock behemoths as Def Leppard and Big Country. This week the group embark on a European tour which kicks off with a show in Aberdeen on Thursday and a brace of dates at the Barrowland in Glasgow, which sold out within hours of going on sale.
Beyond a barrier to the side of our table, sinewy drummer Craig Kneale, 28, gamely attempts to use right-handed clubs (despite being left-handed) under the watchful eye of lead guitarist Barry McKenna, 29, who at his peak played off a handicap of four. We would have been here a week previously had McTrusty not received a call inviting him to the east coast, but who can blame him? “Make hay while the sun shines” will be a recurring theme today.
Twin Atlantic, though, might have hit peak golf. “It’s getting a bit much,” McTrusty concedes cheerily, “not for me and Barry personally but this is literally the last golf thing we do. We don’t want people to forget we’re a rock band.” Today they’re playing a virtual round on the Centenary course at Gleneagles, where the band watched the Ryder Cup last month after playing the opening gala concert at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow. It’s unlikely the concert will make their top 10. “It was weird. It wasn’t …” McTrusty searches for an appropriately diplomatic summary. “It wasn’t the craziest reaction we’ve had.” What was the audience like? “Corporate golf people, who are the worst people in the world,” McTrusty says, laughing. “Not all of them but most of them. It was a selfish project because golf is what I do in my spare time. It’s like meditation for me. All I can think about for four hours is golf, so I don’t worry about reviews or band stuff or the business side of things.”
How was the Ryder Cup itself? “Me, Barry and Sam were at the 15th green when the winning shot got hit,” says McNae. Did they dress appropriately? “I did because I’m a pure golf poser,” says the singer. “I tried to get more ‘golf’,” says the amply whiskered McNae. “I had trainers and a shirt on.” You don’t want to stand out in a golf crowd, I suggest. “No, it’s not cool,” agrees McTrusty, taking a slug from his water bottle.
Peak golf or not, before the quartet get on their tour bus there’s a round to get in. Not of beers, but of questions, 18 in all, the aim being to learn how Twin Atlantic found themselves on the precipice of major league success. On the tee, Messrs McTrusty and McNae.
Hole 1 An easy par four to start. Where did it all begin? “We met on the first or second day of school,” recalls McTrusty. “Our whole friendship has been around music. Ross’s dad plays Scottish folk music on guitar – I’d go over to his house and I’d never seen anyone play guitar up close.” He smiles. “We were also listening to the American Pie soundtrack, that pop-punk thing.”
Hole 2 Another par four to steady the nerves. How did the now teenage McTrusty and McNae meet the others in the band? When not studying painting at Glasgow School of Art, McTrusty could be found pouring pints in sundry Glasgow watering holes. “I’m a bar whore,” admits the frontman. “I worked in Nice And Sleazy, Bloc, the Republic Bier Hall. I met Craig working in Bloc and Barry working in Sleazy’s because they were in other bands. The catalyst was meeting them – we formed the band an hour after our first practice together. We were like: ‘We’ve got something here.'”
Hole 3 Time for a par three. What happened next? “We were going to Craig’s mum and dad’s house and practising from nine or 10 in the morning till five at night,” explains McTrusty. “We’ve been pretty much full time since then. Once we’d started it was all we wanted to do.”
Hole 4 A par five now the muscles have warmed up. At this point in the tale Twin Atlantic were building a live audience with UK tours and shows with the likes of Biffy Clyro, Smashing Pumpkins and McTrusty’s childhood heroes, Blink-182. How were they funding their musical activities? “We were still working in Nice And Sleazy and B&Q,” says the singer. “Eventually we had to make a decision – we couldn’t do both,” recalls McNae. “We had to not have a job and be poor, but make enough to get to the next place. You were in the van and the only thing you needed was somewhere to stay and food.”
Hole 5 Another par five: Twin Atlantic sign to LA label Red Bull Records after Meredith Chinn, a member of its A&R team visiting London, receives a tip-off from a certain Glaswegian music business luminary.
“What’s his name?” asks McTrusty.
“Alan McGee,” says McNae.
“Why do I always forget his name? He’s a pure famous guy. So she asked him, ‘Who’s worth checking out?’ and because we’re from Glasgow he said, ‘These guys are doing OK.’ It so happened that her flight home got delayed and we were playing a show. It was serendipity that she even saw us.
“Our band started at the exact time the music industry collapsed, so we were going into major labels and nobody was willing to take a gamble on a Scottish rock band. We were totally disenchanted. So when we spoke to Red Bull I was like, ‘Fuck it, we want to be one of the biggest bands in the world, we want to make this our lives.’ They were like, ‘Give those guys a record deal.'”
Hole 6 A par three. The band records a mini-album, Vivarium. As is common with young bands, asserting their identity fell victim to youthful exuberance. “We wanted it so much that when the opportunity was there we were in a daze for a year,” recalls McTrusty. “We sound confused. We sound excited. We were putting five songs into one and trying too hard.”
Hole 7 With the turn looming, the first in a trio of par fours. What were they listening to at this juncture? “A lot of complicated rock music,” replies the singer. “The Mars Volta, Fall Of Troy … But even the stuff we considered softer sounding rock was still Mew – we thought they were melodic. It was either that or post-rock like Mogwai or Explosions In The Sky.”
Hole 8 Gigs. Gigs. And more gigs. “We went to America and did a 50-day tour with 47 shows,” says McTrusty incredulously, “and we did a lot of European touring. So many tours in the UK. We wanted to be out working.” The graft paid off – once they’d released their first album proper, Free, the band were playing to thousands, not dozens.
Hole 9 Buoyed by their new-found success, Twin Atlantic jettison the ballast of indie credibility and set the controls for the heart of the charts. Says McTrusty, “People ask you: ‘If you could write any song, what would it be?’ And it’s never …”
McNae interjects: “Mogwai’s whatever …”
“It’s John Lennon’s Imagine or Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen. It’s not like all of a sudden we’re the big pop machine. We started connecting with people and that gave the band a whole other meaning.”
Hole 10 The back nine begins with a par three. How has Twin Atlantic’s audience changed? “When we started it was people like us,” recalls McNae, “then halfway through Vivarium it was a lot of teenagers.”
“Teenage girls, let’s be honest,” adds his colleague. “Then we started to get radio play and on the last tour for Free it was anybody – couples in their late 50s, 60s, across the board.”
Hole 11 A par four called Advice. “I worked with Craig B from Aereogramme in Sleazy’s,” recalls McTrusty. “A crucial point he said was: ‘Don’t be fucking idiots. Take every opportunity you get. My only regret is we held on to our indie morals. All it’s done is stopped us and now we have to split the band.’
“We’ve been at points where our cool-o-meter is telling us: ‘Don’t do that.’ I’m talking about four years after he gave us the advice, and we’ve said: ‘No. Let’s stick to what Craig said.'”
Hole 12 A par four: the recipe for success. “We feel lucky,” says McTrusty, “but we’ve made sure we work 10 times harder than anyone else so we’re in the position to be lucky. The one thing golf taught me is that if you hit 100 7-irons you’re way better than had you not. It taught us the work ethic side of things and patience.”
Hole 13 A short par three. Working hard means they now look after themselves, though it wasn’t always thus. “For years it was seven men sleeping in a van that sits four people,” he says. “We learned how to sneak eight of us into a hotel room.”
“Unscrewing windows,” sniggers McNae.
“When we look back I’m like: ‘How the fuck did we do that?'” says McTrusty. You can get away with murder in your early 20s, I suggest. “And we have,” says the singer. “We definitely have.”
Hole 14 Another par three. McTrusty is the latest in a growing rank of Scottish singers whose brogue is recognisably Caledonian. Is accent an issue any more? “Some people in America have said: ‘I have no idea what you’re saying but I feel it,'” says the frontman. “We’ve had more problems in England over the years,” adds McNae.
Hole 15 The last par five of the round and time to address the elephant in the clubhouse: scale. Size. Stadiums. “We’re comfortable with the idea of becoming an arena-sized band,” says McTrusty. “We don’t want the adulation but it’s hard to explain the feeling of having all those people connecting to your music.”
Great Divide sees the band working with producer Jacknife Lee, whose career was undoubtedly assisted by his work over the years with Snow Patrol, another Glasgow-based group who flew the indie nest (and ultimately Scotland) for more commercial climes. “I always have these sayings,” begins McTrusty. “When we recorded Free we were trying to make a timeless rock record. I don’t know how many times I said ‘timeless’. Then for Great Divide I maybe said the word ‘iconic’ 5000 times when we were recording.”
Hole 16 The final push starts with a par four: the present. All four members have long-term girlfriends and homes in Glasgow, but on the road they have a ready-made tribe in the shape of their crew. “They’re like a big touring family,” says McTrusty. “Our sound guy did our first-ever gig in King Tut’s. He was the in-house guy but we stole him.” The singer chuckles. “If we’ve done 500 gigs he’s done 450 of them. It’s the same with our guitar techs, and the drum tech is Craig’s brother.”
Hole 17 Another par four and a slight curveball: much of Great Divide was written in Canada, where McTrusty fled to stay with relatives. “We toured so much with Free that when I came back to Glasgow I was like: ‘Fuck, I don’t have anything here.’ I’ve got a bit of family but I was used to being away from them and they were used to me being away. I remember going at 100mph when I came home. It felt like everything was in slow motion so I thought: ‘I’m going to try to keep the speed up.’ So I ended up writing a lot of the record in Toronto.” He pauses. “It isn’t as rock-star as it sounds. Like loads of people in Glasgow, I’ve got family over there.”
Hole 18 A simple par three to finish. What wisdom can Twin Atlantic impart to others wanting a slice of the pie? “You have to be best friends,” says McNae, quietly. “What touring taught us from an early point is that if you can’t let things slide, be friends and get over it then you won’t be a band for very long.”
Pity the security guard with the impudence to flash his torch on punters who aim their smartphones at the moptopped bundle of charisma and his four acolytes onstage.
A handful of songs into his set, Ryan Adams harangues said guard. Then, 45 minutes later, he and his band are ad-libbing a new number with the loose title Mr Stage Security Right, Adams repeatedly emphasising his regret at the tenor of his earlier reproach. To Adams’s good-humoured annoyance, the guard is unmoved.
Before, between and after these events, the former poster boy of alt-country revels in the adulation of his congregation – a squealed “I love you, Ryan” is met with: “Text me later, I’m at work. My boss’ll kill me” – as he reaches back into his post-Whiskeytown canon and delivers a masterclass in contemporary American rock. It’s unarguably conservative but hugely persuasive too.
With his acoustic guitar, Adams exerts flawless control over mood and dynamics that finds its apex, if the reception is any measure, in New York, New York, dusted off for this show, he assures us. The closing Come Pick Me Up comes close too.
But it’s with an electric guitar that Adams catches fire, the most invigorating cuts on show from his self-titled new album and 1984, the EP that preceded it, whose title hints at the songwriter’s latest direction.
Among the highlights are the muggy ecstasy of Shadows, the sunburned highway rock of Kim and the swaggering Gimme Something Good, though the Husker Duisms of When The Summer Ends are a welcome shot of amphetamine.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
“There are no second acts in American lives,” wrote F Scott Fitzgerald, with no little sourness.
Well, that was a crock of shit, wasn’t it? For irrefutable evidence look to Dylan Carlson, whose artistic resurrection in the 21st century after his late 1990s meltdown – chiefly fuelled by drug addiction and his infamy for lending Kurt Cobain the shotgun with which he killed himself – is nothing short of an epiphany.
Following the rebirth of a more expansive Earth in 2005 – Carlson being the sole survivor from their Sub Pop incarnation – with studio albums Hex (Or Printing In The Infernal Method), The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull and the Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light diptych, besides sundry live and mini albums, Carlson has become something approaching a guru to those for whom coruscating tone, dogged repetition and patient minimalism form the bedrock of all that is good and true.
Gold – surprisingly, Carlson’s debut soundtrack and one that accompanies the story of German pioneers in the Canadian west, a few hundred miles north of his base in Washington state – is a logical extension of the aforementioned Earth long-players besides his more recent voyages under the moniker he employs here, a guise in which he has indulged his curiosity for arcane English folklore and the music it has birthed, some predictable – Fairport Convention, Mr Fox – and others less so (PJ Harvey, The Kinks).
As any convert to Carlson’s post-millennial gospels might anticipate, within Gold there are few nods to the fuzz-saturated ecstasies of Earth mk1 that compelled Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley to form and then name Sunn O))) in astronomically abstract tribute to Carlson’s group (the Earth revolves around the Sun, or some such) and even christen a track after him (side three of The Grimmrobe Demos, subtitled A Mere Offering On The Altar Of The Puget Lord).
Instead, Gold unfolds as a series of 24 vignettes, a tribe of related yet disparate guitar figures – some cousins, others bearing more imprecise kinships – with sporadic percussion the sole accompaniment. The titles might be prosaic – Gold I, Gold II and so on – yet the questing therein is anything but. The heathen might condemn Gold as mere noodling, but spend a significant amount of time with its incantatory power and devotion is all but unavoidable.
Carlson picks out a languid riff here (Gold XI), lets his guitar and amp breathe with minimal intervention there (the atonal phantasm of Gold IV); at other times he engages bottleneck to conjure a sunburst of alarm (Gold VII), all the while remaining true to the goal that seems to propel him in his second act, his afterlife – to author a new genre, a medicinal, elemental blues with few virtuosic flourishes but bottomless levels of empathy. This is guitar playing as an investigation on an almost microbial level, magnifying and atomising degrees of the spectrum rarely acknowledged by the majority, let alone deemed worthy of anything other than fleeting attention.
The sonic prism through which Carlson’s inquiries are thrust only serves to add heft to their persuasiveness, principally comprising glutinous Uni-vibe, loops and envelope filters that bestow nuanced levels of nausea, narcosis and – yes – newfound hope where appropriate. One moment the mood is desiccated, trapped, fearful; the next, a rain has come and slammed the dust out of the air, decaying notes the only reminder of what was but is no longer. There is a point, it seems to say, in weathering the storm.
Trailing two further albums by Carlson due to emerge in 2014 – Primitive And Deadly, Earth’s first release since 2012, and Drcarlsonalbion’s crowdfunded Wonders From The House Of Albion – Gold marks the first surge in a flood of output from the godhead of drone, one that will likely be judged his annus mirabilis. No second acts in American lives? What a crock of bitter shit.